5 Sep 2013

PNG Mining Minister defends marine impact of mining projects

4:44 pm on 5 September 2013

Papua New Guinea's Mining Minister Byron Chan says damage from a controversial seabed mining project is expected to be contained naturally.

Public opposition to the Nautilus Minerals-led Slower One project in PNG's Bismarck Sea remains strong, based largely on the environmental uncertainties of the country hosting what would be world's first major deep-sea mining operation.

Byron Chan told Johnny Blades that he has little choice but to get behind the project because Nautilus was granted a license to mine by a previous government.

BYRON CHAN: I'm in the position now to be able to drive the whole process of the development. Before I was minister, I was not able to say anything, to the extent that I had no influence in stopping the issues of the mining licence. The government has all the rights, and under existing laws, everything belongs to the state, so it kind of like bull-dozed this project through.

JOHNNY BLADES: Even though Nautilus has stated its case that it's a relatively clean process, how can we really know?

BC: Well, in all mining and exploration activities there is damage, whether on sea or on land. So we expect environmental damage from mining, and that's a fact. The issue with the sea bed is that it's a new form of mining. The fact that we don't know about that type of mining creates some sort of doubts in our minds that the damage could be bigger. But as I'm aware, as scientists have been trying to stress the case, the areas where the Nautilus will be mining are existing volcanic areas. We would have volcanic activity daily. These are contained naturally because of the density of the water at that level. So there are natural environmental eruptions happening at the sea bed where Nautilus is expected to mine, and it's contained naturally.

JB: Wouldn't that maybe be a potentially explosive interaction, though, if you're going in and making upheavals of areas which are active?

BC: It's only the cones of these... Around that area that I was told there'll be mining only up to 30-to-50 metres deep, so I suppose everything is containable.

JB: This review, the legislation, are there going to be some sort of safeguards, do you think, coming out of it for this sort of activity, sea bed mining?

BC: Yeah, for sure. We're trying to do everything possible to make sure that our people and our environments are protected beneath and on the operations above, any oil spills or any other noise pollution is controlled. Also in consideration, we're talking with marine science people here, taking into account the movement of the fish.